Monday, January 30, 2012

Lightened Seven-Layer Taco Dip: A Super Bowl OF FLAVOR

This was originally published in January, 2008.

As a nutritionally minded blogger, I normally advocate fresh, whole, prepared-from-scratch meals in modest proportions.

But, dude. The Super Bowl’s coming.

With the possible exception of Thanksgiving, no other event requires Americans to consume their body weight in onion dip. Nor can I think of another quasi-holiday where quesadillas are designated as health food. Sure, your party of choice might have a token crudite platter buried behind the wings, but essentially, Super Bowl Sunday is to diets what Lawrence Taylor was to Joe Theismann’s leg. (Caution: this video might kill you.)

Yet, us weight-conscious folks need options come February 3rd. And that’s where Lightened Seven-Layer Taco Dip comes in. I got the original dish straight off AllRecipes last year, but subbed in reduced-fat and fat-free ingredients, which saved 30 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving. Fortunately, there were so many loud, proudly competing flavors nobody could tell the difference. I’m making it again this year. And while the initial expenditure might look daunting (see Calculations below), just know three things:

1) With 56 servings, this is a hulking behemoth of food. It is the Mount Kilimanjaro of taco dips. If it was people, it’d be William “The Refrigerator” Perry bear-hugging John Goodman. Last year, my friends N and I barely put a dent in it, and they once downed a Ben & Jerry’s Vermonster by themselves.

2) There are ways (WAYS!) to save a little extra dough. This year, I’m going to buy ingredients on sale, make my own taco seasoning (total cost: about a quarter) and shred a block of Kraft Cheddar with my grater. Depending on how much I buy the block for, it will probably run $0.50 to $1.00 less than a bag. Good times.

3) I live in Brooklyn. Even when bargain priced, everything is more expensive here. Except maybe Chinese food.

If you’re interested in keeping it extra-healthy, the dip can be paired with self-baked tortilla chips or possibly celery. (Which, eat quickly, because people will inevitably bogart the veggies for their hot wings.)

On a final note, the rest of this week is being dedicated to Sunday’s game. Tune in tomorrow for some pigskin-appropriate links, and then again on Wednesday for a monster list of cheap, healthy Super Bowl fare. After that, it’s Thursday’s Football Favorites of the Week. Friday is anyone’s guess, but there are seven lonely leftover jalapenos sitting in my fridge. Suggestions are most definitely welcome.

Lightened Seven Layer Taco Dip
56 servings (seriously)
Adapted from All Recipes.

1-oz. package taco seasoning mix (or make your own )
16-oz. can fat-free refried beans
8-oz. package fat-free cream cheese, softened
16-oz. container fat-free sour cream
16-oz. jar salsa
1 large tomato, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch chopped green onions
1 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded
6-oz. can sliced black olives, drained
2 cups reduced-fat shredded Cheddar cheese (or shred your own 8-oz bar)

1) In a medium bowl, mix taco seasoning thoroughly with refried beans. Transfer it to a large platter or bowl, spreading it out on the bottom

2) In a separate medium bowl, mix sour cream and cream cheese. Pour it over refried beans and spread.

3) Pour salsa over sour cream/cream cheese mixture. Spread out. Then, layer with: tomato, bell pepper, onions and lettuce. Finish with cheese and sprinkle olives over everything.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
36 calories, 1 g fat, $0.25

1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning mix: 45 calories, 0 g fat, $0.25
1 (16 ounce) can fat-free refried beans: 385 calories, 0 g fat, $0.89
1 (8 ounce) package fat-free cream cheese, softened: 218 calories, 3.1 g fat, $2.69
1 (16 ounce) container fat-free sour cream: 336 calories, 0 g fat, $1.20
1 (16 ounce) jar salsa: 123 calories, 0.7 g fat, $1.50
1 large tomato: 22 calories, 0.2 g fat, $1.00
1 green bell pepper: 24 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.50
1 bunch chopped green onions: 32 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.79
1 small head iceberg lettuce: 45 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.99
1 (6 ounce) can sliced black olives: 80 calories, 6 g fat, $1.49
2 cups reduced-fat shredded Cheddar cheese: 720 calories, 48 g fat, $2.50
TOTAL: 2030 calories, 58.8 g fat, $13.80
PER SERVING (TOTAL/56): 36 calories, 1 g fat, $0.25

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The 10 Cheapest, Healthiest Foods Money Can Buy

This originally ran in May 2010.

Whether you’re broke and waiting for the next paycheck, or simply trying to cut back on your grocery bill, it’s vital to choose foods that give you the healthiest bang for your hard-earned buck.

These ten foods do just that. They’re nutritional powerhouses for pennies on the dollar. Many could be considered superfoods, and have long been staples of frugal households. I included almost all of them (sorry, lentils) for CHG's $25 Challenge, and you’ll see that Hillbilly Housewife uses quite a few in her famous $45 Emergency Menu, as well.

To compile the final list, there were three main criteria. Each food is:
  • Versatile. It can be eaten on it own or used as an ingredient in other dishes.
  • Inexpensive. A serving will cost a few dimes or nickels.
  • Nutritious. It packs high percentages of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and/or calories. (Note: To be totally honest, some important, but fairly obscure minerals are included here. Manganese? I thought it was a capital in Southeast Asia. It is not, and oatmeal has 147% of the USDA-recommended daily allowance.)
Bonus: since most of the list is comprised of produce, grains, and legumes, it’s fairly environmentally and ethically sound, as well.

Of course, your opinion on some of these foods (particularly the first) might differ, and I’d love to hear what you would have included instead. But first, before we get started, two quick notes:
  • All prices are the lowest available from Peapod (Stop & Shop) on 4/6/10.
  • All nutrition data comes from, uh, Nutrition Data and is approximate. Serving sizes are noted.
Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist, and these choices reflect my own opinion, so take ‘em with a grain of salt. (Or don’t, because, you know - not a nutritionist.)

Are there better-rounded fruits? Absolutely. Berries will single-handedly protect you from every known disease and fight off communism. But they are inordinately pricey little buggers (especially out of season), and for the money, don’t compare to a good ol’ Cavendish banana. Lesson: Always listen to the monkeys.

Serving size: One large (5oz) banana.
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.33 each
Good source of: Fiber (14% of a 2000-calorie diet), Vitamin C (20%), Vitamin B6 (25%), Potassium (14%), Manganese (18%)
Suggested recipe: Three-Ingredient Banana, Honey, and Peanut Butter Ice Cream

We’ve discussed beans ad nauseum here on CHG, and for good reason: there are fewer cheaper sources of protein and fiber found on Earth. (Maybe Mars?) Their mutability means you can pack them into just about any recipe, and with a range of flavors and sizes, everyone’s palate will be equally pleased. Plus: hilarious farting.

Serving size: Half a cup of cooked black beans.
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost, canned: $0.21 per serving ($0.75/15oz can)
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost, dried: $0.15 per serving ($1.50/1lb bag)
Good source of: Fiber (30% of a 2000-calorie diet), Iron (10%), Protein (15%), Thiamin (14%), Folate (32%), Magnesium (15%), Phosphorus (12%), Manganese (19%)
Suggested recipe: Black Bean Soup with a Fried Egg on Top

Canned tomatoes are here not as a snack or a stand-alone food, but an ingredient. Simply, they’re the basis for innumerable recipes across countless cuisines; sauces, soups, stews, and chilis wouldn’t exist was it not for the humble tomato. And yeah, if you’re the type to dig in a can of Progresso with a spoon, that’s okay too.

Serving size: One cup canned whole peeled tomatoes
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.48 per serving ($1.67/28oz can)
Good source of: Fiber (10% of a 2000-calorie diet), Vitamin C (37%), Iron (13%), Vitamin B6 (13%), Potassium (13%), Sodium (14%)
Suggested recipe: Tomato and Bread Soup

Bugs Bunny was on to something. But while carrots can be eaten raw to great merriment, they’re also excellent roasted, braised, in soups, and mixed with other foods. Hint: for snacking purposes, skip the bags of baby carrots ($1.50), buy a pound of full growns ($0.66), and chop ‘em up yourself. You save $0.84 every time.

Serving size: One cup raw carrot sticks.
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.13 per serving ($0.50/lb)
Good source of: Fiber (14% of a USDA 2000-calorie diet), Vitamin A (408%), Vitamin C (12%), Vitamin K (20%), Potassium (11%)
Suggested recipe: Honey-glazed Roasted Carrots

Apparently, Popeye was on to something, too. (What is it with these cartoon characters?) Spinach is just about the healthiest food you can buy, and it’s easy to sneak little bits into a plethora of different dishes. Here, I’m going for frozen spinach over fresh for two reasons. First, it’s generally cheaper, and you can find better sales. Second, it takes up less space. For those of us with limited refrigerator storage, that’s important.

Serving size: Five ounces unprepared frozen spinach.
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.50 per serving ($1.00/10oz bag)
Good source of: Fiber (16% of a 2000-calorie diet), Vitamin A (333%), Vitamin C (13%), Calcium (18%), Iron (15%), Protein (10-11%), Vitamin K (660%), Vitamin E (20%), Riboflavin (18%), Vitamin B6 (12%), Folate (51%), Magnesium (26%),. Manganese (50%), Copper (10%), Potassium (14%), Selenium (112%)
Suggested recipe: Italian White Bean and Spinach Soup

Full disclosure: I knew lentils were good for you, but didn’t have any idea HOW good until researching this piece. And $0.11 per serving? My god. No wonder they’re eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the world.

Serving size: One-quarter cup of lentils, unprepared.
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.11 per serving ($0.79/1lb bag)
Good source of: Fiber (58% of a 2000-calorie diet), Iron (20%), Protein (25%), Thiamin (28%), Vitamin B6 (13%), Folate (57%), Pantothenic Acid (10%), Magnesium (14%), Phosphorus (22%), Potassium (13%), Zinc (15%), Copper (12%), Manganese (32%)
Suggested recipe: Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Here’s a riddle: what comes in a can, goes in a muffin, or can be boiled with raisins? (If you said “bunnies,” you are sick in the head.) It’s oatmeal, folks! High in fiber and all kinds of exciting minerals, it’s appropriate for every meal. Combine it with sweeter flavors for breakfast, or soy sauce and scallions for a strangely delicious lunch.

Serving size: Half a cup unprepared old-fashioned rolled oats:
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.12 per serving ($3.69/42oz canister)
Good source of: Fiber (16% of a 2000-calorie diet), Protein (10%), Thiamin (12%), Iron (10%), Magnesium (14%), Phosphorus (11%), Zinc (10%), Manganese (73%), Selenium (16%)
Suggested recipe: Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Throughout childhood, peanut butter was as universal as Sesame Street and possibly even my mother. Even today, spooning some out of the jar is a good time, and adding a dollop into stew or oatmeal positively feels like a treat. And though PB is high in fat, it’s a good kind.

Serving size: Two tablespoons chunky peanut butter.
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.15 per serving ($2.39/18oz jar)
Good source of: Calories (9% of a 2000 calorie diet), fat (25%), fiber (10%), protein (15%, Niacin (22%), vitamin E (10%), Manganese (29%), phosphorus (10%), Magnesium (13%)
Suggested recipe: Indonesian Bean Stew

Yes, peas.

Serving size: Half a cup frozen peas, unprepared
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.23 per serving ($3.00/2lb bag)
Good source of: Fiber (12% of a 2000-calorie diet), Vitamin A (22%), Vitamin C (20%), Vitamin K (23%), Thiamin (11%), Manganese (11%)
Suggested recipe: Easy Pea Soup

Rounding out the list, it’s the tastiest of all natural starches: the sweet potato (or yam, if you’re feeling semantic). Sweet potatoes have all the benefits and cooking versatility of regular potatoes, plus lots of fiber, a metric ton of Vitamin A, and an alluring orange color. Enter their world, and you will never want to leave.

Serving size: One cup cubed (about 4.75 oz).
Peapod/Stop & Shop cost: $0.50 per potato
Good Source of: Fiber (16% of 2000-calorie diet), Vitamin A (377%), Vitamin B6 (14%), Potassium (13%), Copper (10%), Manganese (17%)
Suggested recipe: Sweet Potato and Chickpea Puree

Readers, what do you think of the list? What would you add? What would you leave off? The comment section is ready and waiting.

(Photos courtesy of Human 2.0, Real Simple, Zeer, Converting Magazine, and How Stuff Works.)


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Weight Maintenance is Harder Than Weight Loss, and How to Help it Along

This was originally published in July 2009.

An estimated 80% to 95% of people who lose a significant amount of weight will gain it back. It sounds high, yes, but I believe it. This is because I’m slowly becoming one of those people.

Full disclosure: about four years ago, I dropped 30 pounds to get to a (too) low weight of 132. Between then and now, my scale readout has slowly crept up to about 153 pounds.

On one hand, I think I would have gained the weight back much faster had it not been for this blog. Undoubtedly, it’s helped my eating habits change for the better. I drink water, cook at home, scarf lots of produce, and avoid processed foods like it’s my job. My heart, lungs, and various other organs are in excellent shape, and my sister gets thoroughly annoyed that we can’t eat a meal without me adding some kind of crazy vinegar or seasoning. So there’s that.

On the other hand … I’ve put on 20 pounds in four years. I’m not in crisis mode (yet), but what the heck?

I know my faults. There are ongoing issues with portion control and dining out, and my reliance on cheese has grown from an occasional treat to an everyday occurrence. I just didn’t expect those factors to make this much of an impact on the circumference of my backside.

But, as the opening statistic demonstrates, I’m far from alone. Maintaining a weight loss is difficult for everyone. In fact, I would say it’s even harder than losing the weight in the first place. Why? Well, once you’ve dropped the pounds – once you’re no longer getting measurable results on the scale, and weight loss morphs from a happy goal to a ho-hum product of the past – things change. Over time, enthusiasm fades, behaviors slack, and long-ignored temptations are indulged with abandon.

In other words, eating salad for 40 days is easy. Eating salad for 40 years is hard.

Enter the National Weight Control Registry. Comprised of PhDs, MDs, and other experts in the health and obesity field, it monitors the habits of thousands of people who have lost at least 30 pounds, and have kept it off for a minimum of one year. (The average is 66 pounds over 5-1/2 years.) Workers conduct studies, publish journal articles, and are widely considered The Authority on diet and weight maintenance. And while they don’t claim to have concrete guidelines that will keep the pounds permanently off for everyone, they have discovered a few actions common among successful maintainers. (Note that these findings imply correlation, and not necessarily causation.)

In order of popularity, they are:

1) Exercise, on average, about one hour per day.
90% of successful maintainers do this.
Far and away the most common factor for weight maintenance among respondents, exercise prevents you from binging, draws you away from the television set, and … y’know, does all the good things it’s supposed to. Movement must be for life, not as part of a temporary diet plan.

2) Eat breakfast every day.
78% of successful maintainers do this.
The researchers gave three reasons for this: “First, eating breakfast may reduce the hunger seen later in the day that may in turn lead to overeating…Second, breakfast eaters may choose less energy-dense foods during the remainder of the day. Finally, nutrients consumed at breakfast may leave the subject with a better ability to perform physical activity.” Of the 2959 successful maintainers in a 2002 NWCR study, only 4% never ate breakfast.

3) Weigh yourself at least once a week.
75% of successful maintainers do this.
The NWCR calls this “consistent self-monitoring,” and claims it allows maintainers to, “catch weight gains before they escalate and make behavior changes to prevent additional weight gain.” I have not weighed myself in over a year. This explains a lot.

4) Watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
62% of successful maintainers do this.
In a 2003 study, the American Heart Association found a strong correlation between the amount of TV one watches, the amount of fast food ingested, and the propensity for obesity. Turning the boob tube off can help sidestep this, as it allows for more activity and less mindless grazing. (Personally, I believe this point is incredibly important for kids, since they develop habits in childhood that they’ll have for the rest of their lives. Subsequently, I’d lump video games and computer time in the same category.)

The good news is, the longer you maintain your weight, the more likely you are to keep it up in the future. So, adopting these behaviors can only help. I would also suggest that beginning the whole process with long-term intentions (“This is not a diet. This is a lifestyle change.”) makes all the difference in the world.

As for me, I have to drop some pounds again. Then, I need to concentrate on maintaining it for the rest of my life. It's gonna be tough, but I feel a responsibility to readers, the Husband-Elect, our future kids, and myself to do so. Fingers crossed, these strategies will help.

Readers, how about you? What’s been your experience with maintaining weight loss?

(Photos courtesy of the University of Maryland and Documenting Success.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dijon-Roasted Potatoes PLUS Sweet Potato and Chickpea Puree: Two Recipes for the Price of One

This was originally published in January 2010.

When it comes to white starches like pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes, I’m a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. I’ll hoard it, possibly kill for it, and occasionally beat up Elijah Wood just to be in its vicinity. Somewhere, I like to think there exists a 60-minute VHS tape of me scurrying away from the buffet table at a family event. I’m cradling plates of spaghetti to my bosom, angrily hissing “The pasta is THE PRECIOUS!” over and over until I’m disowned.

But … what was I talking about? Oh yeah – starches. I like ‘em. Maybe too much. Subsequently, I’m attempting to A) cut back, and B) be more creative with what I do make. I have a feeling this will involve a lot of bizarre grains and unorthodox purees, but this is okay. After all, what is Brooklyn, if not home for the bizarre and unorthodox? (He agrees.)

Today, both recipes - Dijon-Roasted Potatoes and Sweet Potato and Chickpea Puree – are excellent departures from the norm. The first dish, adapted from Weight Watchers, is a sophisticated alternative to plain ol’ oven fries and baked spuds. The recipe asks you to coat small red potatoes in a tangy, savory marinade, and then roast them to tender-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside perfection. The result goes beautifully with frittatas or lean meats, and can be served with barbecue sauce or ketchup. Gollum would approve.

The second recipe comes from O Magazine, which I adore, despite being a childless, apartment-dwelling cynic. (Harrumph!) Many people accuse Oprah of many terrible things (like thoughtful discussion and creative empowerment), but the woman can produce a dang magazine. It’s nice to read a lady-oriented publication that doesn’t begin with the assumption we’re morons.

Tangent aside, the Sweet Potato and Chickpea Puree is sweet and savory, and another solid pairing for lean meat and produce. A little tahini could even turn it into more of a hummus-esque concoction, so go nuts with the experimentation.

(To know: the original recipe called for 1/2 cup of olive oil, which seemed Smeagol-level insane. So, using a trick from a pesto recipe, I subbed out half the olive oil for fat-free chicken broth. For comparison, I made the full-fat version as well. The Husband-Elect and I both agreed: the chicken broth adaptation was far superior. Sweet.)

That said, how’s everyone doing with resolutions so far? Any fun ideas for white starch substitutions? I’d love to hear, and the comment section is THE PRECIOUS. Er … I mean “open.”

If you like these recipes, you might also like:

Dijon-Roasted Potatoes
Serves 3 or 4
Adapted from Weight Watchers.

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (like Grey Poupon)
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed in your hands
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 pounds small (3-inch) red potatoes, cut into eighths

1) Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl, whisk mustard, olive oil, paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper together. Add potatoes and stir until well-coated. Spread across baking sheet in a single layer. Roast 15 minutes. Remove and stir. Drop oven heat to 350°F. Roast for 20-25 more minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. Serve.

NOTE: The Dijon is pretty subtle here. You can double the coating if you want a more assertive flavor.

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Puree
Serves 6-8 (makes around 2 cups).
Adapted from Oprah Magazine.

1 medium sweet potato (about 14 ounces), scrubbed
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 425°F.

2) Prick sweet potato all over with a fork. Roast about 45 to 50 minutes, or until potato can be easily run through with a knife. Set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove flesh from skin. (It should slip right out.)

3) In a food processor, combine chickpeas, garlic, salt, sweet potato, and a little chicken broth. Get it going, and slowly add olive oil as it’s running. When olive oil runs out, slowly add the rest of the chicken broth.

4) Pour into a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste, and add a little hot sauce if you’re in the mood.

According to O Magazine: “Store any leftovers in the refrigerator, and when ready to serve again, bring puree to room temperature and thin with extra olive oil."


Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber and Price for Potatoes
141 calories, 1.4 g fat, 3.1 g fiber, $0.71

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber and Price for Puree
221 calories, 9.9 g fat, 5.1 g fiber, $0.33

Calculations (Potatoes)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (like Grey Poupon): 30 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.27
1 teaspoon olive oil: 39 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.12
3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika: 4 calories, 0.2 g fat, 0.6 g fiber, $0.03
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed in your hands: 1 calorie, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.03
1/2 teaspoon table salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.01
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.01
1-1/2 pounds small (3-inch) red potatoes: 490 calories, 0.7 g fat, 11.6 g fiber, $2.35
TOTAL: 564 calories, 5.4 g fat, 12.3 g fiber, $2.82
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 141 calories, 1.4 g fat, 3.1 g fiber, $0.71

Calculations (Puree)
1 medium sweet potato (about 14 ounces): 341 calories, 0.4 g fat, 11.9 g fiber, $0.69
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained: 500 calories, 4.6 g fat, 18.5 g fiber, $0.66
1 small clove garlic: 4 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.05
1 teaspoon salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.01
1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth: 4 calories, 0.3 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.10
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil: 477 calories, 54 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.46
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.03
TOTAL: 1326 calories, 59.3 g fat, 30.5 g fiber, $2.00
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 221 calories, 9.9 g fat, 5.1 g fiber, $0.33

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vintage Cookbook Hoedown: The Quick Cookbook (1961) by Lois S. Kellogg

This article first appeared in February 2010.

A few months ago, I fell into possession of The Quick Cook Book by Lois S. Kellogg, a 1961 paperback filled with hundreds of convenient and occasionally jaw-dropping recipes.

There are Mayonnaise Mounds. There are Corned Beef Cobblers. There's even Prune Whip. And I'm pretty sure we can trace America's obesity problems directly to the Canned Chicken section.

To be fair to Lois, she seems to specialize in baking. The cake and cookie recipes look tasty and are mostly made from scratch. Some aren't, but ... we'll get to that later.

First, let's pretend we're hosting a party on Mad Men. And what better way to kick off a soiree than Cholives?

Of course, if you're not fond of olive and cheddar finger foods, deep-fried whole chicken sandwiches make an excellent light appetizer.

The meal really begins with soup. Tomatoes and pineapples are delicious, inexpensive, and come in cans. They should be lovely together.

Side dishes are vital to the success of any meal. I like to make a lot of them, since they're less expensive than meat.

I'd love to serve macaroni and cheese, but I find the garish yellow hue too distressing. How do I cope?

Of course, the most distressing part of hosting a party is that I never know what to serve for the main course. Jellied Meat Loaf? Corned Beef Corn Ring? Ham Wheel Pie? Corned Beef Cobbler? So many options, and all on the same page...

I know! We'll do breakfast for dinner! With a twist!

It's important to end the meal with a wholesome, appealing dessert. Since I believe halitosis is a myth, (like morally upright socialists), this should fit the bill!

You know, Onion Ice Cream is definitely going on the menu, but Bob really prefers treats that keep him regular. Maybe this would please him?

As for my son ... be careful, Danny. This peach pie is "Different" from all the other peach pies. You're such a good student. Don't let it ruin your future.

And to cap it all off, coffee. But drinking it just seems so ... pedestrian. Isn't there a better way to get that caffeine fix?

Mmm ... delicious. I bet the Jell-O company will pay me at least one hundred dollars for this recipe.

Cheers, everyone!

If you like this article, you might also like:
(All photos from The Quick Cook Book by Lois S. Kellogg)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tomato and Avocado Salsa: A Basic Salsa Recipe of Deliciousness

This post first appeared in January 2010. (Um, you can probably tell by the first line.)

It’s the second full week of 2010. By now, you may be ten or eleven days into a resolution diet. You’re probably feeling really good about your progress. Chances are you lost a little weight. There’s a possibility you noticed a physical change already. You might even be thinking (and justifiably so): “I am the greatest person alive! Besides Eddie Vedder, I mean.”

Sadly, this may also have crossed your mind: “If eat one more salad, I’m going to set my face on fire.”

Sweet baby Jane, I hear you. When I began to change my eating habits, salads made up a big chunk of my diet. Office lunches were never-ending parades of the Caesar varietals (with light dressing, natch), and I got real tired, real fast of baby spinach. Then, I learned to cook and life got exponentially better. (Exponentially! That’s a lot.)

Anyway, once I started puttering around the kitchen, I realized the following:

lean meat + sauces, spreads, dips, salsas or dressings = excellence

With a creative topping, you can turn five ounces of pedestrian grilled chicken into a succulent celebration, a flavoral fooferaw, or even a scrumptious shindig. (Or any other gratuitously alliterative party.) Think of the meat as your canvas, and the accompaniment as your pretty rainbow paint of rainbows.

Take Gail Simmons’ Tomato and Avocado Salsa from Food & Wine, for example. You can use it as a dip for chips or veggies, sure. (The Super Bowl’s coming up, after all.) But on plain poultry, it becomes something else entirely: a tasty, filling, healthy dinner. Like almost all salsas, the recipe is staggeringly easy to make and constitutes a solid serving of vegetables. For $1 and 100 extra calories, that ain’t too shabby.

This week, when you’re choking down another round of Romaine, stop. Grab an avocado and a few grape tomatoes, grill a slice of chicken, and treat yourself to Tomato and Avocado Salsa. It’ll make the next few months a lot easier to stomach.

If you like this recipe, you might also dig:

Tomato and Avocado Salsa
Serves 4.
Adapted from Food & Wine.

1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 Hass avocado, diced small
1/4 cup onion, chopped small
1/2 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped
1/8 cup fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1) In a medium bowl, gently combine all the ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir again to combine. Serve on meat, chicken, fish, chips, cheese, or … anything, really.

NOTE: If you’d like a less chunky salsa, chop the tomatoes and avocado even smaller.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
4 servings: 100 calories, 7.4 g fat, 3.7 g fiber, $1.04

1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved or quartered: 45 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $2.50
1 Hass avocado, diced small: 322 calories, 29.5 g fat, 13.5 g fiber, $0.99
1/4 cup onion, chopped small: 13 calories, 0 g fat, 0.6 g fiber, $0.08
1/2 small jalapeno, seeded and minced: 9 calories, 0 g fat, 0.3 g fiber, $0.05
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped: negligible calories and fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.25
1/8 cup fresh lime juice: 10 calories, 0 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, $0.25
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.03
TOTAL: 399 calories, 29.5 g fat, 14.8 g fiber, $4.15
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 100 calories, 7.4 g fat, 3.7 g fiber, $1.04

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Egg McMuffins for Homeskillets

This was first published in 2009. In retrospect ... a tuna can? Yep. A tuna can.

Like 10% of all Americans, I used to work at McDonalds. Like 33% of all McDonalds workers, it was the morning shift.

Everyday in the summer of 1997, I hauled my cookies in at 5am to start the percolator, fire up the grill, and lug 50 pounds of Happy Meal toys out of the sub-basement. My early morning co-workers were a sweet 72-year-old, a slightly retarded janitor, and a middle-aged woman that had no business dealing with the public. On good days, I got to take orders from the drive-through, and didn’t have to face anyone for a few hours. On bad days, entire buses of senior citizens would argue with me over the price of a 60-cent cup of coffee.

During that time, I learned the menu backwards and forwards, including basic nutritional information for most of the meals. While the Deluxe breakfast would melt your aorta, I was always pleasantly surprised at the Egg McMuffin. An egg, a muffin, a slice of Canadian bacon, and a dollop of cheese would come in around 300 calories, which still stands as one of the leanest fast food breakfasts around. Plus, they were (and are) delicious. I know. I ate one every morning for three months.

After last week’s Strata, I had a bunch of leftover Canadian bacon, and decided to give homemade Egg McMuffins a shot. Happily, it wasn’t rocket science, and ten minutes of cooking time scored me two eminently edible imitations of the real thing. Even better, no one yelled at me afterward.

So! For your McMuffining pleasure, here are step-by-step instructions for homemade Mickey D’s. Of course, there are a few things to know first:

1) If you don’t have an egg ring handy (and who does?), try a THOROUGHLY WASHED tuna can with the lids pried off. (NOTE: Don’t use a Bumblebee can. The bottom lid sticks outward, making it nearly impossible to remove. See the pics below? It took ten minutes of straight-up wrestling to create that hole. In the end, it was big enough to pour the egg through, but I almost lost a thumb in the process.)

2) For a more McDonalds-like experience, go with American Cheese. Then, have a 62-year-old retiree berate you because his coffee was too hot.

3) The muffins aren’t browned in a toaster for two reasons: A) they’re harder to hold, and B) I like ‘em better this way.

4) At $0.93 a serving, these should be cheaper than your local Mickey D’s. If not, look at it this way: you don’t have to deal with the tall girl behind the counter. You know – the one with the 1000-yard stare, whose only thought is, “Man, I can’t wait to get back to school. This nametag is making my boobs itch.”

Happy cooking!

Egg McMuffins
Makes 2 McMuffins

Cooking spray
2 English muffins, split in half
2 slices Canadian bacon
2 large eggs
1 ounce reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I prefer Cracker Barrel)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Coat a medium non-stick pan with cooking spray and heat on medium-high. Once pan is warm, place English muffins facedown on pan. Squish lightly with a spatula, so they get evenly browned.

2) While muffins are toasting, break one egg into a cup. Break its yolk with a fork, but DON’T beat the egg.

3) When muffins have been lightly toasted (about 3 minutes), place them on a plate and IMMEDIATELY sprinkle grated cheese on one side. This will get the melting process started.

4) Re-coat the pan with cooking spray. (Note: if you have a gas oven, do this away from the stovetop to avoid a fire.) Place the Canadian bacon in the pan. Place an egg ring OR thoroughly washed tuna can (with both lids removed) on the pan. Pour the egg into the ring. If some should leak out the bottom, no worries. You can flip it later.

5) After 2 or 3 minutes, the egg should be pretty set, so cut it out of the ring and flip it over. Then, add egg #2 to the ring. Flip the bacon while you're at it, too.

6) After another minute or so, egg #1 should be finished. Place it on top of one of the cheese-covered muffin halves, and add salt and pepper to taste. Then, add a slice of Canadian bacon and top with the other muffin half. Press down lightly with a spatula so the egg will finish melting the cheese.

7) Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the remaining ingredients.

8) Take a blog picture in front of a sufficient light source.

9) Serve and eat with glee.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
283 calories, 12.4 g fat, $0.93

Cooking spray: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.04
2 English muffins, split in half: 240 calories, 2 g fat, $0.38
2 slices Canadian bacon: 89 calories, 4 g fat, $0.79
2 large eggs: 147 calories, 9.9 g fat, $0.38
1 ounce reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated: 90 calories, 9 g fat, $0.25
Salt and pepper to taste: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 566 calories, 24.9 g fat, $1.86
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 283 calories, 12.4 g fat, $0.93

Monday, January 2, 2012

Welcome to CHG: A Quick Overview

With the dawn of 2012, comes the dawn of many a resolution. If you’re visiting the blog for the first time, welcome! We’re so happy to have you. Bathroom’s on the left. If you’re a longtime reader, we love you! We’re not kidding. It's a little scary.

To get an idea of what CHG is all about, our FAQ and mission statement are good places to begin. To go a little deeper, these six posts give a pretty solid overview of what we do here:
  1. Spend Less, Eat Healthier: The Five Most Important Things You Can Do
  2. Dr. Veg-Love, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Seasonal Produce
  3. The Circular Game: Decoding Your Supermarket Weekly
  4. How to Tell if a Recipe is Cheap and Healthy Just by Looking at it
  5. Weekly Menu Planning for Singles, Couples, and Working People
  6. Relax, Frugal Eater: A Measured Approach to Lifestyle Changes
Our master article directory of over 150 similar pieces can be found here. We also post one or two frugal, healthy, and delicious recipes per week, which are compiled here. There are over 400 right now, and we’re always adding to the list. Here are ten fairly simple favorites to get you started:
Hope you’re enjoying the blog so far. We’d love to hear from you if you have suggestions, and best of luck with your resolutions!